Archive | November, 2012

Cape Town

30 Nov

We were meant to stop in Cape Town for 4 days. We ended up staying eight. Need we say more? Well, yes, probably, if you want details, so we’ll give them. But most importantly, our arrival in Cape Town marked the return of Alan.

Alan:  In Australia, I was a one man wolf pack. But when I picked up Dane and Eric from the airport, my wolf pack grew to three. All is right again.

Eric:  We are back. We are back. We are BAAAAACCCKK!

Dane:  JP was also there.

Eric:  Yeah, JP summed up the reunion well. He said Dane and I went to Petra saw the Pyramids, and went on safari and Alan did … well, nothing.

Alan:  I caught up on season two of Sixteen and Pregnant.

Dane:  Day one JP took us around to Long Street and to Camps Bay.

Alan:  We had a few beers and took in the scenery (read:  gawked at women)

Eric:  And swam in the coldest water in the world!

Dane:  Yeah, that water was freezing. Camps Bay is situated right on a current that brings up water from Antarctica. And it felt like it.

Alan:  After that we hiked Lion’s Head for sunset and brought some wine.

Eric:  We didn’t bring a corkscrew so we had to push the cork down into the bottle with a stick! It added a little dirt to the wine.

Dane:  Looking back on it, our first day was extremely productive. I can’t believe it took us a week to cover the rest of Cape Town.

Alan:  To do four things.

Eric:  If that.

Dane:  Well, let’s list the activities we did in the remaining days.

Alan:  The District Six Museum, Shark Diving…

Eric:  Table Mountain.

Alan:  Robben Island. And met up with some of my old friends.

Eric:  Drinking.

Dane:  That’s what really stretched out our time.

Eric:  No doubt.

Dane:  We’ll go in order. Let’s start with the District Six Museum. Anything to say?

Eric:  We took funny pictures. No, just kidding.

Dane:  Well, we did.

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Eric:  Yeah, but it was a pretty informative museum.

Dane:  It could have been laid out better. Could’ve had a better flow to tell the story of the neighborhood.

Alan:  It was interesting to see the history of an old black and colored neighborhood that had been cut off by apartheid and then just taken back by the city when they wanted the land back without any sort of reparations made to the people that lived there.

Dane:  On to Robben Island.

Eric:  I thought it was really cool that our tour guide was a former prisoner. I wish he would’ve talked more about his own personal experiences rather than Nelson Mandela’s.

Alan:  Yeah, it was interesting to hear a couple of Mandela stories and see his old cell, but it would’ve been nice to hear some of our guide’s stories.

Dane:  Certainly a personal account of his stay and experiences imprisoned on the island would’ve been much more interesting and made the experience more powerful.

Alan:  Shark Diving.

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Eric:  It was intense. Each one of us has our own personal little story, I guess. Alan got hit by a shark fin. Dane almost had his head eaten off.

Dane:  I think you just told our stories.

Alan:  Fetal positions were entered into…

Eric:  Well, Alan just told mine, so…

Dane:  You were the first one of us to be in a cage and the first one of us to see a shark swimming at you with its teeth bared.

Eric:  Oh God! The shark was swimming toward the bait, and its momentum carried it right to where I was at in the cage. It hit the cage so hard that I lost my grip on the safe handle bar. I wanted to grab onto something else, but the shark was biting the cage. Its teeth were about six inches from my face. Alan made fun of me for getting into the fetal position.

Alan:  You did.

Eric:  It was terrifying man! But an awesome experience.

Dane:  Table Mountain.

Alan:  We had planned on summitting Table Mountain two other times, but cancelled it due to weather. It ended up being the last thing we did in Cape Town.

Eric:  We hiked up the mountain and down, even though old man Alan didn’t want to.

Alan:  Just the down part. I also almost lost my hat, but Dane, my hero, rescued it from the side of the mountain.

Dane:  There was a great view from the top. You can see the whole city of Cape Town, and it is a beautiful city. It was sort of nice to go up Table Mountain at the end because we knew the landscape we were looking at. We had our experiences to go along with the view.

Eric:  That’s about it.

Dane:  So, I guess now we have to get to the thing that delayed us in Cape Town so long … the drinking.

Alan:  Long Street will suck you in.

Dane:  Alan danced Gangnam Style. Eric sang karaoke.

Alan:  And had the microphone taken from him.

Eric:  And was not pleased.

Dane:  We also went out to Cape to Cuba near Fish Hoek for Thanksgiving to meet Alan’s old friends.

Eric:  There was no turkey.

Alan:  You did get to watch football, though.

Eric:  Oh, yeah, they turned it on just in time for me to watch the Lions get agonizingly defeated.

Dane:  It was a good game.

Eric:  Could’ve been better.

Alan:  They also invited us out to a braai in Kommetjie that weekend.

Dane:  That was fun. They had a festival going on in the town and their friends had a nice place with an ocean view. The weather was terrible, though.

Eric:  I had a good time at night.

Alan:  The morning was awful, though.

Eric:  The people we met were great. Kommetjie was a good time. Fun was had by all.

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Dane:  “Fun was had by all.” We can apply that to all of Cape Town, I think.

Alan:  Yeah.

Eric:  It was a great time and a beautiful city. I think the best one we’ve been on in the trip.

Alan:  Besides Adelaide.

Eric:  You mean Radelaide?

Dane:  Is it good to be doing stupid things with your friends again Alan?

Alan:  Absolutely! The wolf pack is back!

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On Robben Island with Table Mountain in the background.

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Vic Falls

28 Nov

Victoria Falls provides the largest sheet of falling water in the world. Its native name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, means “cloud that thunders.” And it is just that.

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Our Lonely Planet guide had a list from A to Z of things to do at the falls. We, unfortunately, only had two days at the falls, so we had no choice but to choose between the various activities. We settled on visiting the Devil’s Pool and white water rafting down the Zambezi River, starting just after the base of the falls.

The Devil’s Pool is a natural pool that sits on top of the falls on the Zambia side. The edge of the pool is literally the edge of the waterfall.

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Earlier in the day, when we arrived at the Zimbabwe side of the falls, we saw people climbing in and out of Devil’s Pool. We had read about the pool and seen a YouTube video of people swimming in it, so we were well aware of what to expect and were not surprised to see them. Many other tourists, however, had no idea what a bunch of tourists were doing standing at the edge of the falls. It looked insane and crazy. Later that day, we knew that’s what people were going to think about us.

When we arrived at the tour launching point on the Zambia side, we were all surprised at how calm it was on top of the falls. The only thing that might signify any danger was the rising mist in the distance.

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We hopped in a boat and were driven to Livingstone Island. We walked the rest of the way to the falls. The sound of the falls began to grow as we neared the edge. The rising mist was being blown back into our faces and cameras. Then, the drop off appeared before our eyes.

There was no small barrier wall. There were no fences. It is untouched. The only thing between us and a 350-plus foot drop was a small stumble. It didn’t seem safe. It wasn’t.

Our guide pointed into the distance where there was another group swimming in Devil’s Pool, indicating where we would be in minutes. It was near the rushing, tumbling water, the cloud that thunders. It seemed less safe.

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When we arrived at the pool, we were presented with two options:  climb in or jump in. The first person in our tour jumped in. That left us no choice. Everyone would be jumping in.

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We figured when we hit the water, we would be pushed to the edge of the falls by the flowing water. We weren’t. It literally was like a pool. It was also quite deep and at the edge of the falls, the rock had developed into a barrier wall. It was actually quite safe. As long as you stayed within the barriers of the pool, there was nothing to worry about.

The rest of our time there was pure fun.

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After the pool, we returned to Livingstone Island for a nice meal. The setup was pretty terrific. There was nice food and cold beer. Also, a toilet with a view.

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The loo.

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The view.

Then, we hopped back in the boat and cruised away from the thundering of the falls to the quite serene waters next to the drop off point half a kilometer away. We sat on the deck of the hotel that runs the tour and had a beer. Our thoughts turned to our next adventure tomorrow morning at the bottom of the falls.

We woke up early to be taken to the white water rafting launch point. They went over the safety instructions and what to do “when, not if,” we were tossed out of the boat into the Zambezi River. There were many class 5 rapids on our tour, and we had to be prepared how to handle them.

When we were climbing into the boat, we (Eric and Dane) volunteered to sit at the front. It was an immediately regrettable decision. Our guide was going to make us work hard and the two people at the front of the boat were going to have to do all the heavy lifting. Our guide was also an asshole, which made things slightly less enjoyable.

Luckily for Eric, he was demoted from the front within minutes. It was embarrassing for him at first, but it was the best thing that could have happened to him. He was out of the hot seat.

By rapid five, we were all tired and ready for a break, but we wouldn’t be given one, and we had thirteen more rapids to conquer. Eric and two others had fallen out at rapid number three but the rest of us had remained dry up to that point. It didn’t last. Our entire boat flipped soon thereafter. It was actually kind of fun being tossed into the river. I mean there were rocks and crocodiles and stuff, but it was still fun.

The next time everyone in our boat fell out was when our guide got cocky and wasn’t really paying attention. In the boat, we did our best to listen to his instructions. That’s why when everyone (except our guide) realized our boat was headed directly for a rock, we kept paddling straight for it. The guide kept yelling “forward!” so we kept going forward. When we were nearly on top of the rock, however, our guide said something else, “Oh shit!”

We slammed into the rock and everyone flipped out of the boat. Somehow our guide managed to hold onto the rope around the boat and was eventually able to pull the boat off the rock where it had been lodged. The rest of us floated down the river for quite a ways. We even floated into calm water where the crocodiles tend to hid out. Luckily everyone was able to get to shore without incident. We spent the remainder of our time waiting for the boat and making fun of our asshole guide.

We fell out of the boat a few more times and developed tons of blisters on our hands before we reached the final rapid. This rapid, we had been warned, tossed nine out of ten boats. Three boats went ahead of us. All of them flipped. Then, it was our turn. We went into the rapid and came through the other side. It seemed rather simple and very anti-climactic, but we cheered anyway. We certainly had no part in getting through that rapid. We just happened to be lucky enough to hit it the right way at the right time.

That afternoon, everyone had planned to do a few things as the hours ticked away on our time at Vic Falls. But everyone was too exhausted. We were confident, however, that we had done the two most fun activities at the falls, in order of greatness, Devil’s Pool and white water rafting the Zambezi.

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The Okavango Delta

28 Nov

The Delta was the only ‘true’ bit of safari we participated in. We were truly in the “bush,” as they say. There was nothing around, no electricity, no showers, no toilets. And we didn’t drive around in 4×4 vehicles searching for game. We moved around on foot. There was nothing between us and the Africa wild.

Dane:  We were taken to the camp site via canoes, all our supplies, all our water, everything.

Eric:  After setting up camp, we realized it was too hot to do anything. We sat around making small talk for the next six hours.

Dane:  This was the first place we truly started bonding with some of the safari group. Out of boredom we created nicknames for everyone. Some people liked their nicknames more than others (e.g., the girl we nicknamed the Oracle. She brought a bottle of vodka on the trip for the group. She claimed it would’ve been rude not to buy a bottle of alcohol in duty free).

Eric:  We refused to make nicknames for ourselves. We told the group to come up with nicknames for us. They failed to offend us.

Dane:  We did go swimming in a place in the Delta that afternoon. Supposedly it’s a safe place. No hippos or crocodiles go there during the day.

Eric:  Our guide Andrew pretended to be a hippo.

Dane:  It was so hot there. The swimming hole was the only thing to provide relief.

Eric:  Even at sunset it was pretty hot.

Dane:  That’s when we went on our first walking safari.

Eric:  And that’s when we found out we were terrible at walking safaris.

Dane:  Just our group.

Eric:  The A-Team! Me, you, the Oracle, Arnold, Harvey the Bully, and Jandals (for that first walk).

Dane:  We struggled to be quiet to the level necessary for not scaring the animals.

Eric:  No one should find it surprising I couldn’t maintain that level of quiet.

Dane:  We saw nothing.

Eric:  Well, not nothing. Poop.

Dane:  Our guide struggled. When there were no animals, he tried to entertain us by stopping at different animal droppings and describing them. Our first walking safari basically turned into a series of poop jokes.

Eric:  Our next walking safari wasn’t any better.

Dane:  Yeah, we went to bed early in order to wake up for another walking safari in the morning. We saw more poop. That was all.

Eric:  In the afternoon, though, we accomplished something amazing!

Dane:  Yes!

Eric:  We went swimming again. There were tons of minnows in the water, so we started catching them.

Dane:  Everyone did. But we took it to the next level.

Eric:  We played catch with the fish!

Dane:  At first, we tried to catch the minnows with our bare hands. That failed. Then, the catcher cupped water in their hands.

Eric:  We threw one minnow back and forth and back!

Dane:  That’s when we shouted ‘we win Africa’! No one else understood our elation.

Eric:  They’re dumb.

Dane:  Then, we just sat around camp.

Eric:  We spent that day about the same way we did the last. Just making small talk and getting to know one another.

Dane:  That night, after dinner, the guides put on a show.

Eric:  I loved it!

Dane:  Oh, I forgot something, the boat ride at sunset.

Eric:  We were told we were going on a sunset cruise, so of course we had to bring our beers.

Dane:  But as was relatively consistent with our time at the Delta, we were not given all the necessary information. At one point, the boats docked and we were told we were getting out for one last game walk.

Eric:  We weren’t even told that. We were just told to get out of the boats and walk.

Dane:  We were wearing sandals.

Eric:  And had our beers in hand.

Dane:  Both groups were mixed together at this point, and the other group was not impressed with our talking. We were “shushed.”

Eric:  Not even my mother “shushed” me like I was “shushed” by Hawkeye (a girl from the other group). But you’re skipping ahead. You’re leaving out the moment you made Daisy run away.

Dane:  I saw one of the guides, Daisy, not wearing any shoes. I asked her where her shoes were. She said on the boat.

Eric:  Then, you told her she was crazy!

Dane:  Yeah, that’s about right.

Eric:  She ran away faster than the animals we were scaring with our talking.

Dane:  Many girls have walked away from me in my life, but none faster than her.

Eric:  I think you just like making fun of poor people.

Dane:  Nothing is more fun than making fun of a 47%-er.

Eric:  The election also happened while we were in the Delta.

Dane:  Yeah, it was weird being disconnected from the news during such a monumental event.

Eric:  Our guide made a phone call to try to find out who won. He said, “Obama…probably…I think.”

Dane:  Yeah, he was a little unsure. It made the next 24-hours a bit tense till we discovered there was no “I think” or “probably” about it.

Eric:  Yeah, I’m not sure exactly why he made it seem so close.

Dane:  Back to the impromptu walking safari. We made it to a group of trees near the water. We heard a churning in the water, a loud churning. Then, we saw elephants.

Eric:  That was cool.

Dane:  That was great!

Eric:  Seeing them on foot and up close was definitely a highlight.

Dane:  And then that night was highlight number two, the performance.

Eric:  I loved it! I thought it was terrific. The guides all did a dance performance and sang traditional songs. We were really lucky for them to put that all on for us. The ceremony was really fun.  I even got pulled up to dance!

Dane:  The next day, we were canoed out of the Delta. Some of our group, us included, paid for an extra helicopter ride over the Delta which I really enjoyed. We covered lots of ground and saw lots of game.

Eric:  We also got a new perspective on the Delta. It is massive. It’s hard to tell where you are and where you are going as you brush past the reeds through the small canals, but from above you can see it all.

Dane:  Yeah, I agree. It was a nice way to cap off the whole experience before setting off to our next destination.

Safari

20 Nov

There are a couple of things that deserve special mention from our two week safari:  the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls. They will get their own posts. For now, we’ll just focus on the rest of the two-plus week journey.

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Dane:  What is your vote for the worst aspect of the safari? What was the best non-Delta/Vic Falls aspect of the safari?

Eric:  The worst:  being in a tent for 15 or whatever days. The best is hard to choose. I loved the people. I loved the animals. I loved our crew.

Dane:  The tent is an obvious choice for worst. Setting it up. Taking it down. Not sleeping in a bed. The bugs. The dirt. The sand. There were a lot of good things on the safari, but the best by definition can only be one thing. What is it?

Eric:  What is yours?

Dane:  The animals. That’s the point of going on a safari, isn’t it? Our guides made the safari better. The other people on safari with us made it better. But the best thing? The animals. It has to be.

Eric:  Yeah, we saw a ton of game and were lucky enough to see some very rare things.  The African dog is endangered and incredible difficult to spot.  We saw a baby elephant that had just been killed by a lion and was still warm!  We even saw some black rhinos which are also nearly extinct!

Dane:  Nearly extinct because they have the propensity to walk toward humans when they smell them, a cruel twist of evolution.

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Over the course of our safari, President Obama was reelected, Dane turned 25, and Alan flew to Cape Town. Yes, Alan flew to Cape Town to rejoin us on our trip around the world. Somehow that is the biggest non-safari thing that happened during the last two-plus weeks. He missed Petra and the Pyramids, but now he’s baaaaaaaccckk!  …  and hopefully has brought us some sort of “sorry for abandoning you guys for a girl” peace offering.

The safari was terrific. We met a whole crew of great people on both legs of the journey and saw some incredible things. It was well worth the experience, but it’s time for regular showers, reliable wi-fi, and a bed and pillow again.

Egypt

3 Nov

Our first full day in Cairo, we went to the Pyramids at Giza. It was by far the best thing to see in Egypt (though admittedly, we did not make it to Upper Egypt — Luxor, Memphis, and all that). That is no surprise. After seeing the Pyramids, nothing else in Egypt stood a chance to impress us.

Dane:  Highlight of Egypt?

Eric:  Pyramids.

Dane:  Obviously.

Eric:  Obviously.

Dane:  So, what’s number 2 on the list?

Eric:  Climbing to the top of Mount Sinai. Egypt has so much religious history, to experience some of it was cool. You?

Dane:  I would have said the same thing, but in order to avoid getting repetitive, I’ll say scuba diving at Dahab.

Eric:  Scuba diving is always great. I saw some of the biggest, most colorful fish I had ever seen in the Red Sea.

Dane:  Yeah, they were massive and somewhat scary to see swimming toward you.

Eric:  The reef was pretty impressive as well.

Dane:  There wasn’t much going on in Cairo. Tahrir Square was quiet. The Egyptian Museum had a lot of cool things, but there was little to no information about the artifacts present and there was no flow to the museum at all.

Eric:  It was pretty cool to see the mummies, though. One of them even had all of its finger nails still.

Dane:  Yeah, the mummified body exhibit was cool. The King Tut treasures were cool. A lot of the artifacts were cool. The museum could be so much better, though. It felt like a wasted opportunity.

Eric:  Is there anything else to say really?

Dane:  Alexandria.

Eric:  Alexandria was nice because we had a contact there to show us around a bit.

Dane:  The library there is pretty amazing … as much as libraries can be.

Eric:  They have a record of everything they’ve put on the internet since 1996.

Dane:  All backed up on servers. The only copy of the internet in the world.

Eric:  Be careful what you put on Facebook.

Dane:  Have you seen your Facebook profile?

Eric:  I’d be a lot smarter if I took my own advice. College.

Dane:  But again, the Pyramids were the best thing by far.

Eric:  I’d say they were the best thing I’ve seen on this trip … or the coolest thing.

Dane:  They were absolutely amazing. Massive. Huge. Another word meaning mind-blowingly big.

Eric:  We rented horses to take us around the whole complex. Not being from Texas, I think I enjoyed the experience more than Dane. We got to gallop around a bit, which was fun, but also hurt…

Dane:  I enjoyed the galloping more than you because, being from Texas, I knew how to avoid hurting certain parts of my anatomy when the horse sped up.

Eric:  Yeah, galloping was painful.

Dane:  The horses were a good way to get around, though. I didn’t want to do it at first because I thought the price was expensive, but it ended up being well worth it, especially since our guide shooed away all the touts (read:  annoying salesmen).

Eric:  It was nice not having to deal with them for a change. It made the experience all the better.

Dane:  So, that’s Egypt?

Eric:  I’d like to talk about what impressed me about the pyramids.

Dane:  Go.

Eric:  It was fascinating to see something so tall that had been standing there for over 5,000 years. I’m so impressed the Egyptians were able to construct it with such minimal machinery. They were incredibly high. Was it 160 m?

Dane:  Not sure.

Eric:  Well, high. And massive at the base.

Dane:  Yeah, it made having the horses almost a necessity just to get around them in a reasonable amount of time.

Eric:  So, that’s Egypt?

Dane:  That’s Egypt.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, the grandest of the pyramids, was completed around 2540 BCE, the others were constructed and completed not too long after. The height of the Great Pyramid is 138.8 meters (455 ft). The width of the Great Pyramid at the base is 230.4 meters (756 ft). In your mind, you have an idea of what to expect when you get there, but when you finally do arrive, you are still blown away.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest building on Earth when construction on it was completed. It held that record for 3,800 years.

Mount Sinai

2 Nov

We took a taxi from Port Nuweibi to a place called Dahab upon arriving in Egypt. We slept a couple hours to recover from the ferry ride then went scuba diving. We walked into the water from the shore. The coral reef was right there. It was spectacular, colorful, and full of fish. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing in restaurants and lounges on the water. We had to allow our bodies to decompress (or whatever) after diving. Our next stop would be Mount Sinai, and, not wanting our ears to explode (or whatever), we couldn’t climb the mountain immediately after diving. So, we waited.

We took a taxi from Dahab to St. Catherine’s in the afternoon. We had planned to tour St. Catherine’s Monastery then return to our hostel to rest before heading to the mountain at 3 am to hike to the top to watch the sunrise over the desert. Things did not go entirely as planned.

There were several military checkpoints along the way from Dahab to St. Catherine’s. We were waved through most of them without a problem. At one of them, however, we were stopped for quite a while. We showed them our passports and everything seemed to be in order till they asked us to step out of the car.

We were walked to the commander of the checkpoint’s office, but they said only one of us could go inside. Eric waited outside. I was escorted in.

I was greeted by a stern-faced man who liked to keep his hand gun on top of his desk. It was half an arm’s length away from him, and the barrel was pointed directly at me. He asked me several questions in a style in which he was trying to be as intimidating as possible (surely the gun was enough to accomplish this). Then, he thought about all of my answers and concluded tourists on the way to climb Mount Sinai and then on to Cairo the following day seemed like a reasonable enough truth. We were allowed to proceed on the condition we took the 6 am bus from St Catherine’s to Cairo tomorrow. We agreed.

Upon arriving at our hostel we were informed we wouldn’t be able to witness sunrise on the mountain and make it back down in time to catch the 6 am bus (as it turns out, it was the only bus leaving for Cairo the following day anyway). Also, St Catherine’s Monastery was closed for the day. We wouldn’t be able to tour the monastery, but we could still hike Mount Sinai and watch the sunset, only we had to leave immediately, and we had to hurry.

We rushed out of the hostel, secured a guide, and hiked up Mount Sinai as quickly as we could. No rests, no breaks. It was worth it, however, when we reached the top just in time for sunset. We took the obligatory pictures with smiles and then Moses-style pictures. And that was about it. It got dark, and we hiked back down. We ate dinner at the hostel and went to bed in order to wake up early the next day for our trip to Cairo.

It was rushed, but it was worth it. Climbing Mount Sinai was great. Sunset over the desert was terrific. It was a good experience.